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Owen ‘a little nervous’ but excited ahead of WorldTour debut

In their desperate search for a new sponsor late last year, Cannondale-Drapac spent plenty of time in the headlines. The team’s battle for its very existence and the excitement of EF Education First stepping in to save the day, however, left little room to focus on what might have been an otherwise intriguing transfer season, one that saw the team sign a number of promising riders — among them, 22-year-old American Logan Owen.

With the calendars now turned to January, the Washington native is officially a WorldTour rider, a goal many years in the making. With multiple national titles in cyclocross and on the road as a junior and under-23 rider, as well as a U23 Liège-Bastogne-Liège win on his palmares, Owen has been a highly regarded prospect for years. He battled injuries in 2017, his fourth season with Axeon Hagens Berman and his first year fully dedicated to road racing, but impressed Jonathan Vaughters’ squad enough to earn a contract for 2018.

Now, he’s just two weeks away from pinning on a race number at the WorldTour level at the Tour Down Under. At least for the moment, Owen seems to be balancing the unavoidable nerves with the confidence necessary to ride in the pro peloton.

“Yeah, I’m a little nervous. I’m more excited than nervous, but I don’t really know what to expect,” he told VeloNews by phone this week. “I’ve chalked it up in my head thinking it’s going to be way different, way harder, but at the end of the day it’s bike racing. I’ve probably raced with most of the guys at this level here in America a few times, and sometimes over in Europe. It’s probably harder in my head than it’s actually going to be. I’m sure I’m going to get out there and it’s going to be — well, not ‘no problem,’ it’s going to be hard — but I’m not going to get dropped in the first 20k.”

Unlike some of the other riders in the peloton, Owen won’t have had much of a chance to get to know his teammates, as they are headed Down Under without having ridden a training camp together. He isn’t worried.

“I’ll be meeting these guys for the first time, so that will be interesting,” Owen said. “We all know how to race our bikes. I’m going to be the newest guy on the team and probably the freshest at that level so I’ll be the one that has the most to learn, the most to gain. All those other guys 100 percent know what they’re doing, so I don’t think it will be an issue. It will be cool to hang out with them.”

Owen expects to be finding his sea legs racing at the sport’s top level in the early goings of the season. He says helping the team is his central priority, though he won’t shy away from chances to nab results when they fit into the squad’s plans. Despite his strong palmares as a junior, Owen’s journey to the WorldTour level took a bit longer than he’d hoped, with the 2016 season not bringing much in the way of contract offers. He wouldn’t mind showing the teams that passed on him what they’re missing.

“First and foremost I just want to do my job as best I can, but there were some teams that said, ‘You’re not good enough, blah blah blah,’ so I am kind of motivated to prove that I do belong at this level,” Owen said. “But at the same time, I want to make sure that I do the best I can for the team and help us get as many wins as possible.”

The specifics of his calendar have yet to be nailed down but Owen has at least a rough idea of the plan for the first several months of the year.

“It seems like I’ll get put into a couple of big races,” he said. “I think Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne is one of them and then Amstel Gold is another, potentially. And then I’m kind of on the reserves for the other big races. I’m just going to try to get a taste of how the big races go while doing some other really hard but smaller races.”

Owen has a broad skill set that has allowed him to contend on a variety of terrains as an up-and-comer, but he is starting to hone in on his objectives as a rider and expects his foray into WorldTour racing to help with that.

“I kind of know what my niche is. It’s more short punchy climbs that max out at Liège-length climbs,” he said. “I think I can do well at Flanders-types climbs as well. Those are two pretty different races I guess but that at least narrows it down a little bit. Somewhere in there, I’m going to get a chance with both with Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and Amstel potentially, I’ll probably get a good taste of both of those types of things through the season, and then I’ll have a better gauge of what I’m going to be best at.”

With plenty of big opportunities on the horizon, Owen is in a good place to start the season. He’s even enjoying watching cyclocross from afar, which wasn’t easy to do this time last year.

“Definitely last year, my first season not racing ‘cross, it was tough to watch the races, I even had to kind of tune out,” he said. “It was tough to pay attention to ‘cross because I’d feel like I could be out there doing well, I wanted to race. But now I can watch it and I just watch it for fun. Yeah, I kind of miss it a little bit but I’m happy with the decision and the route I went down, so I’m not looking at it and wishing, ‘Man, I’d rather be doing that than what I’m doing now.’ I’m happy with where I am.”

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